India-China standoff: Vigil along LAC in Depsang crucial, say experts
As Indian and Chinese forces prepare to act on an understanding to disengage from all friction areas along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), it is crucial that the army keeps a strict vigil along the contested border with a special focus on eastern Ladakh’s Depsang plains, officials and China watchers tracking the dispute said on Wednesday.
The heightened concerns about Depsang come from an earlier intrusion in this sector in 2013 when the PLA set up positions 19 km into the Indian side of the LAC and triggered a face-off that took three weeks to resolve.
The Depsang plains lie south of Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) in a strategic area that the military calls Sub-Sector North (SSN). DBO is the country’s northernmost outpost where India operates an advanced landing ground to support forward military deployments.
Keeping strict vigil along the disputed border, especially in sensitive areas in SSN, during the disengagement process is vital, said Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd), who was the director general of military operations during the Depsang face-off.
The 2013 Chinese intrusion into Indian territory blocked the access of Indian soldiers to several patrolling routes including the ones leading Patrol Points to 10, 10-A, 11, 12 and 13.
Indian and Chinese military commanders reached a “mutual consensus to disengage” from all friction areas during a 11-hour meeting at Moldo on the Chinese side of the LAC on Monday. The talks were aimed at cooling tensions and thinning the military build-up on both sides of the border which has been tense since a brutal brawl on June 15 left 20 Indian army personnel and an unconfirmed number of Chinese troops dead in Galwan Valley.
“The SSN, including Depsang area, is of huge strategic significance and there’s no question of the army lowering its guard there. The Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DS-DBO) runs through this area that is near the Karakoram pass,” said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd).
India is building a second road from Sasoma to Saser La in eastern Ladakh and it could eventually provide an alternative route to DBO, as reported by Hindustan Times on June 9. The Sasoma-Saser La road axis is south-west of DBO.
“India will have to progress cautiously during the disengagement process as the possibility of the PLA opening a new front cannot be ruled out,” said a senior officer on condition of anonymity. The disengagement process, to be carried out in different sectors, in phases is yet to kick off, he said. It is expected to gather momentum after commanders on the ground hold more meetings in the coming days.
China has deployed up to 10,000 troops in its “depth areas” across the LAC in eastern Ladakh and the military buildup includes including fighter jets, helicopters, tanks, artillery guns, missile systems and air defence radars. India has matched China’s military moves.
Neither India nor China is likely to immediately thin its deployment in the rear areas, given how volatile the disputed border has been, especially after the brutal clash at Galwan Valley, as reported by Hindustan Times on Wednesday. The clash derailed a previous disengagement plan worked out by senior Indian and Chinese commanders after their first meeting on June 6.